Antonio: The Calabite’s Song

It’s storytelling day! And this is a bit different for it — this is an In Nomine piece — a bit of fan fiction. And who’s to say I can’t post some fan fiction now and again? It’s long — novella length, around twelve thousand words. Normally, I’d break it into more than one part for this venue, but I think it works better in its full form.

I actually think this is a pretty good story. Good enough that I’m sad it has absolutely no prospects for sale, since it’s fan fiction and it’s very vested in the In Nomine intellectual property. It’s also something I wrote as kind of a culmination on the work I did on In Nomine Superiors 4: Rogues to Riches. I wrote an extended writeup of Alaemon, the Demon Prince of Secrets.

This is a story of one Alaemon’s demons. A calabite — one of the demons of destruction, who can destroy with a glance (though the universe — or Symphony — would take notice). Paranoia is a part of daily life in Alaemon’s Conspiracy.

Most everything else should be self explanatory. If not, ask a question in comments and I’ll try to answer it.

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Antonio
The Calabite’s Song

He lay on the bed, with no sheet or blanket. He was never cold, and he never slept. The stereo was broken, so he couldn’t listen to music. He didn’t have a television. The newspapers were stacked in the corner. He restacked them every now and again, and it was coming due. Clothing was piled everywhere, with the smell of dorm clothes on the floor. Pizza boxes and the remnants of a few get-togethers lay around the room too.

He never slept. Sleeping left you open. Nightmares waited for you to sleep, to learn things about you. And when they learned things about you, they used them against you. Knowledge was life. Knowledge was death.

So he laid on the bed in the dark, pretending to sleep. His suitemate would come through, and he had to fit the part. And he stared up into the darkness, seeing the lights from Boston streets far below playing across the ceiling. And he saw, and if he did not sleep, still he dreamed, looking into the play of the shadows and light. He dreamed of the pain in his soul pouring through the instrument’s crack, flowing and curling out as whirls of flame, destroying and consuming all that they touched. He dreamed of the fire curling into circles as they tore through the walls of the dormitory, of the cars on the streets, of the mortals as they fled. Human flesh tearing itself apart around the spinning wheels of fire, and the boy at the center screaming out his rage and pain in sympathy, eyes looking at a blood-red sky… he lay in the bed and watched the spinning wheels of fire, playing in the shadows of light and darkness–

The music jarred him. So did the shouts. He sat up slowly, rubbing his arms against each other. The bastards in 202 again. It was a Tuesday. Did they have to have a party every night?

He should be glad. The sound would help him get through the night. But damn it, he hated techno. He shivered and stood, finding his dirty jeans and pulling them on. He ran a hair through his straggly hair — a shower and conditioner would make it look pretty good, but those were hours ago, and nothing lasted very long. Nothing. He stumbled to the door — he didn’t have to, he was very agile, but you had to assume someone was watching. You always had to assume someone was watching. So he had to live the role and in the role, he was just out of bed and overtired, so he had to stumble. He kicked a pizza box out of his way and pushed into the hall, pulling his grey flannel shirt around him. He liked the grey. It looked all right, rumpled and dirty. It made him look artistic.

He nearly cracked the wood of the door with his knock. He took a breath and found his center. He wasn’t here to do any damage. Not so close to home. You had to be careful. And no matter how much he might want to, he didn’t have the right to just kill them. He needed orders for that. Orders that came from unexpected sources.

“Yo?” The door was pulled open, Rob sticking his head out. “Oh, if it isn’t Tony.”

“It’s after twelve thirty,” he said. His name wasn’t Tony, technically. But you didn’t tell your real name. Not to humans. Not even to your fellows. He even called himself Antonio now, though his Lord knew his real name, and who knows who else might. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”

“Whatever, fuckwad. You wanna beer?”

“I want you to shut that crap off.”

“Tough guy. Hey yo guys! Tony here wants us to shut this crap off!”

There was a chorus of laughter in the room. Five or six boys and girls in there. All drinking and laughing. He could see Angie Rocker was down to her bra and jeans, giggling and drunk.

“Wow, Tony — I guess you’re outvoted, aren’t you.”

“I’ll get the RA,” Tony said. He didn’t threaten to tear Rob’s eyes from their sockets and ram his belt ends into it. He didn’t threaten to force the blinded, screaming twenty year old to run down the hall, ridden by Tony as he held the belt like a bridle. He didn’t threaten to force Angie to drink blood from Rob’s still warm heart, then leave their ripped open corpses among the glittering wreckage of Rob’s CD collection.

“Yeah, why don’t you get your momma while you’re at it.” Rob laughed, touching wolfpac to the guy next to him.

Tony didn’t react. To react would be to kill them, and he wasn’t allowed to do that. “I’d like to go back to bed.”

“Oh baby, that gets me so hot,” Nina Danner said, grabbing her crotch and breast, wiggling at him and laughing. All their pathetic dominance games. Idiot humans and their idiot meat bodies.

“Just quiet down, fucker,” Tony mumbled. The role didn’t let him be tough. It’d be out of character. That let him hide away until he was needed. It kept the Angels off his ass and the Game looking for other people. So far as he knew. Play the part….

“Yeah, right.” Rob slammed the door, no doubt to look like an idiot some more, pretending he was a tough black ganger instead of a jewish white boy from Connecticut, driving a beater Honda.

Honda….

Tony walked back into his room and grabbed his key, tied to a long shoelace so he could drape it over his head. He grabbed his backpack. He was angry. Oh yes, he was angry — he wanted to tear their heads off and throw their corpses to the street. But it wasn’t a bad thing, either. It was logical for Tony to be pissed off. Logical he’d simmer and decide to go for a walk — maybe stay out all night. College students pulled those stunts when they were humiliated. And that meant he didn’t have to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling until six A.M. He could go out for a while, get some food and wander the streets, and then come back to shower and clean up before taking his morning walk before class. The walk was important. He was scheduled for the Charles Riverside up to the B.U. Beach then back down Commonwealth route today, six-thirty-six to seven-twenty, before hitting the C.L.A. building.

Five hours or so he could be out. Perfect. Especially since Nina lived on North Campus, and they’d give her a ride back. They always did, even though it was maybe twenty minutes on foot to get there. But she’d be very drunk…

Tony made sure the door was locked before heading for the stairs. He never took the elevator even though his room was on six. He shuffled down to the bottom, half-skipping down, and waved at the bored security guards who watched the door. Out to the street, looking both ways for the Honda.

It wasn’t on Comm Ave directly. He walked to the corner and looked dow– there. Sloppily parked halfway to Bay State Road down the side street. Tony half smiled, looking at it. He didn’t approach it. He didn’t have to walk near it, really. Just see it. See it and think about it, and feel the ache in his arms and up his spine — the crack in his soul that hungered to tear people apart, feel them die, watch their horror as their life boiled out of them….

He felt the ache and reached out with it, but muted it. His Lord’s gift let him use his resonance without visible cause. That gift let him reach into the Honda, ruining delicate electrical equipment, misaligning valves, cracking the bottom of the battery and the oil pan, clogging the fuel line and knocking the fuses out, one by one even as the transmission ever so silently died, a hint of a ripple in the Symphony its death cry….

Petty. And foolish. But there was no way to trace the death of the Honda to Tony. That was his Lord’s gift as well. An Angel could have been in the car and not known where the waves of silent death came from. He allowed himself to smile as he walked through Kenmore Square, looking around. He ducked into the subway tunnel, using it as a corridor to walk across to the other side without fighting traffic or lights, and headed up to hit the IHOP.

He sat in the booth near the window, drinking stagnant coffee and sketching in his sketchbook. He could see the small group walking. It had to be three in the morning. He could see, just barely, them get into the car. He half smiled, sketching the woman who was wiping off the IHOP’s counter. He could imagine Rob swearing, slapping his hand on the dashboard, getting more and more upset as nothing seemed to work. He knew the car was sitting by a meter. Come the morning they’d have to feed quarters or get tickets. And nothing — nothing could bring that car back to life. Any mechanic would tell him to scrap it and hope for the best.

It wasn’t as good as murder. Nothing was as good as murder. But it would do. He nodded as the woman came back and filled his coffee back to the top, leaving a new carafe. “What you got there, hon,” she asked.

“Just a fast sketch,” he said, turning the book to show her.

“Oh jeez,” she said, half-smiling. “That ain’t bad. That ain’t bad at all. You got a good eye, you know that?”

“Thanks,” he said.

The walk came after the shower. He had combed his hair carefully, and found a tee shirt and jeans that weren’t total messes. He didn’t have to look too good as a college student, but it made things easier to not reek. The sunlight on the Charles river was beautiful… it reminded him of his daydream the night before — circles of fire in the sky–

No, best not even to think about them. He half-smiled to a couple of girls sitting on a bench, smoking. That early morning cigarette, curling into their lungs to start their days up. He turned to watch them as he walked, getting a half-smile in return. He couldn’t care less about getting that smile, but he had to give the opportunity, in case he was–

He collided with a black runner, the two being thrown to the ground by the impact. Tony shouted out, resisting the sudden, driving need to kill that flooded into his thoughts instinctively.

“What the Hell’s wrong with you,” the black man snapped angrily, shoving at Tony’s chest and knocking Tony back down.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Tony snapped back. “Jesus — it was an accident!”

“An accident. Oh yeah, it was an accident.” The runner got to his feet. “You just watch your damn step, all right? Stop watching women instead of the road.”

“Whatever,” Tony snarled, getting up too and walking away, anger in his step now.

He clutched a piece of paper in his hand, tightly, handed over by the runner as they fell. He didn’t look at it. He kept it in his hand as he walked through the square, past the chapel and around to the classroom building. He kept clutching it as he hit the Men’s room, sitting in the third stall. He never sat in the same bathroom stall two days in a row — you had to vary your pattern, in case you were being watched. He dropped his pants and sat down, and only then did he open the note, shielding it from above with his body.

"B Line to Park Street, 2:47."

Tony looked at the paper for a long moment, then stood, dropping it into the toilet. He focused on it, letting his resonance into it. It had just a hint of the artifact to it — enough to make it as out of place as he was, so it’d make no noise as the paper crinkled and browned into dust that instantly became mud in the water. He flushed the toilet and watched it wash away, curling into a circle of clear and dirty water. An infinitely spinning wheel….

So. He had to take the 1:36 C Line train to Government Center, where he’d catch whatever the next movie was at the Hoyts just around from the station. They had something for him. Or it was a trap and he was blown. Either way worked. He ran his hand through his hair, which was still wet, and buckled his belt. He had to get to class.

Intermediate Drawing. Two hundred level. The room stank of charcoal and sweat and turpentine. The bench was uncomfortable, the easel back at a good angle. Tony filled in the shading on his piece. It was a freehand assignment — creativity unleashed, his teacher called it. Professor Goodwin believed in the right side of the brain and unleashing whatever you found. She didn’t like it when you found everyday things to draw.

“Oh Tony,” she said, passing close.

“You don’t like it,” Tony muttered.

“Oh, it’s beautifully drawn. Please understand that. But… it’s a boy looking out a window. I thought maybe you could be more… fantastic. Really evocative. Really let your soul out.”

“I don’t think I have a soul,” Tony said. It was a lie. He was all soul, poured into a meat body. But lying was part of what Tony did. What Tony had to do.

“Everyone has soul, Tony. I just wish you wouldn’t be so representational all the time.”

“But — Ms. Goodwin, there is creativity here.”

Tony blinked. Ellen Foley was leaning over. “See,” she said, “look at his eyes. They almost look like embers.” She pointed. “He’s not just looking, he’s smoldering. And look how the shadows are clinging to the walls. The figure is trapped, can’t you see? He can see freedom, but he’s trapped. Confined. Like a candle that’s been hooded or…”

“Now please, Ellen,” Professor Goodwin said. “All right, I guess I can see some of that, but let me be the judge of creativity.” She moved on with clipped motion.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Tony murmured, looking at his own sketch. She was right. The eyes were burning. The shadows confining.

“I wanted to,” Ellen said with a grin. “She’s so up on the magic of imagination, you know, but if you don’t do it her way, it’s not being distinctive, or something.”

“You’re rebelling against the establishment,” Tony asked with a slight smile.

“Something like that, Mister Marks. Something like that. Are all your figures trapped?”

Tony looked over at her. “That depends on what you consider trapped,” he murmured.

“How zen.” She smiled a bit more, leaning back over her sketchbook. Tony angled to look at it. It was a flower, but with a human face, screaming at a shadow over it. “What do you see, mm?”

“Is it about to be pruned, or is it about to be peed on,” he asked.

Ellen giggled. “I hope peed on,” she said. “But let’s face it, pruned is more likely.”

Tony smiled a bit more, and moved back to his own drawing. He continued to fill it in, darkening the shadows a touch and touching the kneaded eraser to the windowsill, softening it as though it had a slight glow of its own.

“Hey, you want to grab lunch later,” Ellen said. “Say, around one, one-thirty?”

Tony paused, and looked back forward. “Are you hitting on me,” he asked, a slightly teasing smile on his face.

“Oh, c’mon. Can’t a girl ask a guy to lunch without hitting on him?” She didn’t look unhappy. “I’m just thinking hot dogs or Captain Nemo’s or something.”

“Captain Nemo’s? That’s botulism on a plate,” Tony snorted. “How about dinner instead? We could splurge and go to Burger King, say four-thirty?”

“Mmmmmaybe.” She smiled a bit more.

“All right, class,” Professor Goodwin said. “Fifteen minutes off — let’s be back at nine-forty, shall we?”

“Hey,” Tony said, as the students began to stand and stretch, “can I take a picture of your sketch?”

“A picture?” Ellen looked a bit surprised.

Tony nodded, pulling his digital camera out. It was one of the cheap ones, though it did take flash memory. He focused, the other students moving past. One ducked in and waved before moving on.

“I’m going to get a drink and hit the bathroom. Be gentle with it, ‘kay?”

“I’m always gentle,” Tony said, nodding to her. She left and he snapped the picture. He then glanced at her, walking out the door. A pretty girl. Sweet, in her eyes.

Tony slowly reached for the sketchbook, and pulled the last page back over. It was a random sketch page — people’s faces, a soda can, a newspaper on a table… He took another picture, then pulled the next page over and took a picture of that, too. He knew the other students in the room saw him get permission, so he could get away with it. Another picture, and another, and another….

Tony dropped his head against the plastic window of the C Line train. There was a bit of squiggly graffiti at the front of the car, but mostly the car was just the polychromatic kitsch of the blue and red plastic seats, the fake wood paneling. The cheap cardboard ads for foreign language schools and Cooperative Extension. Men and women piled on the seats, all ignoring each other.

Tony watched the walls of the tunnel pass, lights intermittently passing by like flares. Like he was running through the streets, coasting with speed, whirling like the wheels of the subway car on the rail, leaving sparks in his path…

The car squealed as it rounded the corner and came to a stop. The speaker scowled unintelligibly. Tony pushed up, wiping his hands on his shirt. It had charcoal and pencil dust on it. Without those, it would just be dirty. Everything was dirty. He walked off the train, ignoring the tear in the seat cushion he’d just been on. It was just another torn seat on the C line. Nothing very interesting.

He climbed up the stairs, hoisting his backpack behind him. The strap was frayed — he’d need to cut a new one sometime soon. He went through two or three a semester, usually.

The theater was dark, and nearly empty. That’s why it was chosen, of course. A bad movie in the middle of the day — perfect. But there were five or six people waiting to watch John Travolta flush his career down the toilet. Including two in the seats four down from the upper left corner of the room. That wouldn’t do. They were laughing, getting their food out, ready to mock the bad movie, laughing and pointing, the boy lifting his drink towards the screen–

Tony watched the drink, and half-smiled as it exploded in the guy’s hand, drenching the two in ice and watered down coke. His date shrieked, and they both stood, trying to wipe themselves down. He watched them stumble out, the girl yelling at her date as they went. He waited until they were gone, then moved to the seats. Their wet coats and her purse were still there. He lifted the coats up and leaned forward, dropping them two rows forward. Her purse he tucked into his lap as he sat down. The seat was damp but he didn’t care. He looked through it. Lipsticks, condoms, tissues, wallet, driver’s license… he took a fast picture of the contents with the digital camera — despite its looks it handled low light well, and he began to take pictures of the addresses in her address book….

Movement in the corner of his eye made him drop the book back in the purse. He closed it and dropped it to the floor, kicking it down the two rows to where the rest of their stuff was. They looked at him for a second, before the guy saw their coats and they walked down. If they examined them, they’d figure out they were moved, but they weren’t likely to care that much. He also slipped the girl’s driver’s license into his pocket, smoothly. It was valuable to her, and it had her social security number as well. He had to hide something of value each day, collecting secrets carefully.

Stolen secrets never looked like they were stolen. Even if she couldn’t find her driver’s license, she wouldn’t believe anyone stole it but left her credit cards. She’d never believe anyone went through her address book. Random? Maybe — but still–

A small man slid into the seat next to Tony — too close for coincidence. His contact or his doom.

“It’s a bad movie, I hear,” he murmured.

“Yeah. But loud.”

“Loud noise covers soft words.”

“But soft words do more damage.”

“The seat’s wet, Florin.”

Tony shrugged. “Mine’s no better. Hasn’t the Revolution endured worse than wet asses and bad movies?”

The newcomer looked at the screen. “Perhaps not this bad,” he said quietly. “Are the humans supposed to wear the nose clips or is John Travolta supposed to wear them?”

Tony shrugged again.

The newcomer passed packets to Tony. “The Revolution has missions for your cell,” he murmured. “Pass these to those you have recruited and lead in our glorious struggle, my friend.”

Tony slipped each into an inner pocket inside his flannel shirt. “And for me?”

“Is not the struggle of your cell your struggle?” the contact asked quietly, even as he slipped a fourth packet to Tony. Tony glanced at him. He was small, and dark, with mustache and close cropped hair. Tony had never seen him before, at least not in that vessel. He wasn’t likely to see him again, even though his own Revolution cell leader must have sent him.

“Have I ever failed to meet my responsibilities,” Tony asked in answer. It was the nature of Secrets — the one bond they all shared. You never answered a question directly. You never told the whole truth. You never exposed yourself. You never implicated yourself. This might be his contact for the Revolution, or a Game agent, or a spy from another faction of Secrets, or his Lord himself in disguise. This might be an Angel. But nothing Tony said directly implicated himself, and nothing his contact said implicated him. Not directly. Tony had been doing this for centuries. Conversational judo was a part of him. He doubted he could give a straight answer if he wanted to.

The contact didn’t answer. He watched for a moment, before leaning over. “I want some popcorn. You want some popcorn?”

“I like Milk Duds,” Tony whispered back.

“All right then. I’ll be right back. Peace, Florin.”

The newcomer slipped to the aisle and out of the theater. Tony leaned back and tried to get into the plot of the movie. The contact wouldn’t be back, of course. Tony would probably never see him again. It was as if they were just links in a chain. Points of connection. Packets in a network. Tony came to rest, and then received information. Some of the data would stay with him, and some would move down the line to Tony’s Revolution recruits. And some of his recruits would pass instructions down to their recruits, and some would stay with them. And somewhere down that line the information would get blown.

Or perhaps get blown closer to home…

Tony remembered how it used to be. He remembered Vienna in 1830, whispering in alleyways and smelling dirty canals, with bits of penmanship passed on parchment and seals with duplicate seals of higher officials, to throw off the scent. He remembered France in 1918, passing communiqués and taking missions. He remembered London in 1962, moving between unhappy men in hornrimmed glasses and three button suits. He remembered caring, passionately. Every movement and every mission, every murder and every order.

He was sitting on the T again. This time the Red Line, heading out past Harvard and M.I.T. It was a dangerous part of town — the Jeanites had this part of town, with bits of other Angels too. Lust had a tether out here too, or so he thought. But it was far away from his own stomping grounds and off his usual paths, so it would be less likely he’d be observed, unless he was being followed. He hadn’t seen anyone, though. Not yet.

He slipped out at the Davis stop, moving off to the edge of the platform and swerving into the brick-clad restroom. All too normal. He took the packets out, and began opening, scanning information. Memorizing. Learning what the Revolution wanted him to direct his three recruits to do. Intricate instructions, arcane and perhaps contradictory — but that’s how it would be. At least one set of instructions was a blind, so Tony couldn’t figure out a pattern to the instructions. And no doubt there was missing information as well. All part of the job. All status quo. Instructions to check out a C.E.O. who’d been taking day sails to Bar Harbor but logging himself throughout Penobscot Bay. Instructions to find out who killed a boy in Vermont. Instructions to learn who influenced a movie reviewer to give a bad movie a good review, and why. At a guess, the last was the most important. The middle was the blind. The first was moderate priority. All would be collected by the Revolution, filtered, added to their treasury of Secrets. Somewhere, the Lord of Secrets may have idly asked about the atypical movie review, and a Servitor started the chain of events through the Revolution to learn the truth before the Master did, or perhaps to be the one to tell the Master.

Tony didn’t know. He’d never know. He wouldn’t even hear the reports his cell gave. Except of course he had other informants — ones of his own — and would learn what he could from there.

He took out his camera and began taking pictures, one of each page. The flash memory held up to thirty-six pictures. He snapped to thirty-five, then popped the chip out and put in a new one, continuing his work. A picture of each page — that was the best resolution. When he was next in his room, he’d write out a list of all thirty-five frames on each chip, and snap a picture of the list. Then he had to eat the paper. He wasn’t stupid enough to use his resonance where he lived. That was too dangerous for words. It would also be a chance to copy the files to other media, and encrypt it and hide it…

That was enough. He wadded the papers up, having committed their contents to memory, but he didn’t destroy them yet. He had one more packet to read, first.

He opened the last. The one with the print of the coin lightly embossed on the envelope. A florin, of course. The Revolution’s all too clever cant. Antonio cared nothing for money. Things simply broke. Money could buy nothing that lasted. Nothing at all. He opened the envelope and began to read.

A name. A profile. A neighborhood. A dangerous one, close to the Michaelite Tether. But Boston was choked with Tethers — more than most cities its size had, mirroring its old, choked streets. A target.

The crack in Tony’s soul growled, hungry. It thirsted to kill, to feel human pain and anguish, to tear the life from humanity. To whirl them away like spinning rings of fire….

No, not like that.

Tony closed his eyes, repeating what he read in his thoughts. He nodded, ever so slightly, and slipped the packet into the mass of paper he had already made. He repeated the thoughts again, rising from the toilet. He turned, and let the hunger, the need to kill, the crack in his soul ache through his fingertips, into the mass of wadding, the secret instructions, which seemed to twist into too chaotic dust before it hit the water. He heard the whisper of the Symphony complain at the paper’s death. This was no artifact.

He hadn’t taken pictures of his instructions, of course. That would be sheer stupidity. His target was only known to the one who wrote the instructions to pass to ‘Florin,’ and to Tony himself. And the one who wrote the instructions might not know anything at all about Tony. Just that one of the Secret Destroyers would need to take care of this. That was how the Revolution worked. No one knew anything.

Which was the sanest thing about it. Tony flushed the toilet. This one didn’t swirl. It just sucked the water away. He nodded and walked outside the stall. He wasn’t too worried about the disturbance he made — it was so tiny as to be almost unnoticeable, and even paranoia had its limits.

Still, he didn’t call his first contact from that T station. He walked for a while, walking for the next T station back towards the City, and used a pay phone to call. She answered on the first ring. Djinn never left home if they didn’t have to.

The Impudite he e-mailed from a Harvard Square Cybercafe. He almost smiled, so close to the minuscule Tether to Litheroy. Thumbing his nose at Revelation, even in secret. He created the e-mail account, of course. Hotmail was so easy to trick when you only had to send one message. He typed it in cypher, with the relay codes worked into the appropriate spaces, so that the server would receive it, send it to the next server it was supposed to go to — the one on the private network. From there, it would relay two times more before his contact received it. He gave the Impudite the murder mystery. If it was a blind it didn’t matter if it was blown or not, and he suspected the Impudite was a double-agent for the Gebbelites. Not that they didn’t all serve Secrets, of course.

The Lilim he used the drop box for. Fedex, of course. This month, they were the secure route. It wouldn’t last — it never did — but so long as it didn’t get blown during this message, and even if it did it would be hard to read. So many ways to hide things, and the Lilim was good.

He took a Bus to M.I.T. He could almost smell Jean and the Servitors of Lightning in the area. A good number of his missions — from any number of sources — took him to this side of the Charles. Try to learn those shining Secrets, so easy to sell to Vapula… but not today. Today, he was just here to walk across the stone bridge back to Boston and the B.U. campus. They called it the M.I.T. Bridge in his dormitory. That kept it separate from the larger Mass Ave bridge on the other side of both campuses.

Cromwell was there, leaning on the railing at the midpoint, looking down at the river and towards the apex of Storrow Drive. Tony leaned next to him, looking as well. Cromwell had a red beard, a balding head, and a cloth overcoat and scarf. Balseraph, the outfit practically screamed. It would get Cromwell in trouble one day. Tony didn’t intend to be anywhere near when it happened.

“There’s a nip in the air,” Cromwell said, almost cheerfully.

“The flowers are wilting,” Tony answered.

“But they will grow again?”

“Springtime always comes.”

“So it does, Antonio. So it does.” Cromwell smiled slightly. “You’re looking morose.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“So I hear. So I hear. Ah, the dear Revolution. Tearing down our beloved Lord. Or so they think.”

“There’s no real need for small talk, Cromwell. I’ve got a busy night ahead of me.”

“Mm? Do I know her?”

“Does it matter?” Tony half-smiled, not meaning it. He was treading too close to a direct answer. To dissonance. He couldn’t afford that with a job in enemy territory.

“It should. The Rosettes should appreciate the bloom, Tony. Its delicious petals opening to reveal its secret pollen. Its fragrant scent, like the hint of scandal. Our Lord would approve.”

“I’ve got business tonight. Charlestown.”

“Charlestown? A bit close to War, isn’t that? I hope you’re getting hazard pay.”

“I’ll be quiet. Promise.”

“Good. You’ll get the details to the Order?”

“When it’s done, you’ll know. I don’t know why the Revolution wants the work done, or who commissioned the order.”

“We can find those things out.” He checked his watch. “It’s getting on….”

“There are some other projects,” Tony said quietly.

“Oh?” Cromwell asked mildly. Never the direct question. Tony couched the investigations into the murder and the C.E.O.’s trips in the appropriate terms, keeping them somewhat blind to the listener, and not telling Cromwell all the details of course. He didn’t mention the movie review. He might be a double agent, but you always held a bit back, at least from the Order of the Rosette. Just like the Revolution held bits back from him. No one said everything. Everyone collected important bits. Secrets they might be able to use later. Leverage. Power.

Cromwell knew that, of course. But knowing Tony was keeping bits to himself meant Cromwell wouldn’t decide to cut Tony loose, perhaps with a shotgun in the night. Not while he thought Tony knew something of use to the Order, or to Cromwell himself.

Cromwell stretched, finally. “I’ve an appointment,” he said. “Watch yourself, Antonio. I should hate to end these little talks. They’re my only good exercise.”

“I wouldn’t give you the pleasure of evenings off,” Tony said absently, with no conviction in it.

“Mm. Until tomorrow.” Their next meeting wouldn’t be until Tony signaled again, the next time the Revolution called for him. That wouldn’t be tomorrow. Or that week, probably. Maybe not that month. Of course, there were other kinds of orders, from other kinds of sources, but the Order didn’t need to know about those. Walking across the bridge, Tony wondered how many of these rendezvous he’d kept over the centuries. Once, he thought he would make a difference to his Lord. Once, he thought there was real purpose behind the organizations that sprang up within the fabric of the Conspiracy.

It was all the same, now. Just another day. Just another betrayal. Just another double cross or triple cross or Lucifer only knew what.

If there was a Lucifer or a God. If all that weren’t some elaborate hoax put on by the Game. He didn’t have those secrets.

If only he could run away. Run through the fields. Run through the clouds. Run past the houses and the fields and the woods. Run until his shoes fell away and his clothes frayed off his body. Run until the crack in his soul split open and let the fire out, rolling desperately away into the spirals of the night, anger and blood sloughing off like old skin as he rolled and ran into eternal, starlit night….

“Hey, you!”

Tony blinked and looked up. The double cheeseburger tasted exactly like every other double cheeseburger he had ever eaten. The clammy meat of the mass-produced kill. There was no satisfaction in this meat. Its death was too remote. It might as well be damp newsprint. “Yes?”

Ellen shook her head. “You looked a million miles away. Don’t you want to be at B.U.?”

“Where else would I be?” he asked, half smiling. “Are you going to finish those fries?”

“Of course I am,” Ellen grinned. “In fact, has anyone in recorded history ever not wanted to finish their fries?”

“I don’t know everyone, now do I?”

“Do you ever just give a straight answer to a straight question,” Ellen asked, laughing. “Ever?”

“Yes,” Tony lied. Lies were legal.

“Good. I was beginning to worry.” She grinned, pulling a handful of her fries out of her carton. “But you were far away, Tony. As far away as that boy in your drawing wants to be. What do you dream of?”

“I don’t remember my dreams. Besides, this is where I am. This is who I am, right?” Tony shrugged.

“I don’t know who you are.” Ellen leaned back, letting her black hair graze the floor. Tony looked despite himself. Pretty. Shapely. So full of life. It made the crack in his soul hunger for her, but it wasn’t his master. Not like some he knew. But they weren’t the silent Destroyers, not like he was. “None of us know each other. Not really.” She leaned her head back forward, looking at him. “Not inside. Our thoughts are islands, and none of us know each other. We can’t.”

Tony looked at her, feeling a cold shiver down his back. His voice was quiet and didn’t shake. “Is that your philosophy?”

“Isn’t it yours? Isn’t it everybody’s?”

“I don’t know everybody,” Tony said. Yes, he didn’t say. Yes, the whole world is alone. Hell is alone. Heaven is alone. We are all alone. No one can really know us. No one can really touch us. We are defined by the secrets we manage to keep close to our chests.

“I think that’s why we try so hard to connect to each other.”

“What do you mean?”

Ellen smiled a bit, leaning forward. She put her elbows on the bright yellow plastic table, folding her hands together and resting her chin on them. “I mean humanity. You and me. The world. We try to reach out for each other because we’re lonely, and we’re afraid of being alone. That’s why there’s so many songs written about soulmates, about finding that one you can ‘let into your heart.’ That comes from being scared that no one will ever know and understand us.”

Tony felt his heart pounding. His fake heart. His Vessel’s heart. His real Heart was in a coffin locked away in a subbasement of a dark chamber in Hell. And it was possible that his Lord had his hand on it right now, and knew exactly what this woman was saying. It was possible she was another Servitor of Secrets. Possible she was one of the Game. Possible she was an ang–

Screaming flowers with human faces….

He knew he should leave. He knew he should get out of the Burger King and keep going. He should call a safehouse. He should fall in front of the T and let this vessel die, disappearing into the obscurity of Hell or another vessel. He should assume he was blown.

Kill her, the crack in his soul moaned. Tear her throat out with your teeth. Push her into the air and force her body’s muscles to tear themselves apart in your hand. Listen to her scream as her heart ruptured into a fountain of blood….

“Will anyone know and understand us,” he whispered, trying to keep his turmoil and hunger hidden. “Is there any hope of that?” He could see cracks in the corner of the plastic table, growing wider. He moved his hands away from it, afraid she would see.

She looked at him, and maybe looked sad or maybe was faking it. “I don’t know,” she said. “I hope there is. I really do. Is there still trust in the world?”

Tony bit his lip and looked back down, forcing himself not to bit through his lip. “I don’t think I’d know trust if I met it,” he muttered.

“Do you trust me?”

“I’m running late. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

Ellen didn’t press. And Tony didn’t kill her. Riding the T, he thought about that. He should have. Taken her out on a trip — some excuse to get her out of the city. Watch her die. But he didn’t want to kill her. Except for the crack in his soul, that always wanted to kill. But it didn’t care who it killed. Ellen or a random passerby — it was all the same. All the same.

He didn’t want to kill Ellen. He wanted Ellen out of the game, the Conspiracy. He wanted her to be a normal human playing with the kind of wild eyed concepts that humans all thought they invented when they turned twenty years old. He wanted to keep Ellen hidden away from the real world, the world of betrayals and lies and evasions. Make her his little secret. And why not? Djinn kept secret things, and Ellen didn’t know anything, really. Not really. She couldn’t.

He couldn’t afford this. He had work.

He changed over to the Orange Line, and rode it to Haymarket. Wandering outside, he could taste Heaven in the air. The Archangel of Trade had a pretty big tether just a few blocks away, at Fanieul Hall and Quincy Marketplace. It was big and it was pretty noisy. It’d be suicide to push the Symphony around here, where angels could swarm out, ready to kill.

Which was why he was up there. He had to make a ripple on his way, and between the noise of the tether and the stupidity of a demon playing tricks so close by, it wasn’t likely a minor drop in the chords would make a difference. Besides, he’d made too many little ripples out on Comm Ave and in Cambridge. He had to keep on the move, and not make a pattern the enemy could figure out.

He stopped in a concrete bunker they called a parking garage, and stayed on the landing between the street and the first basement level. It was dark, the light broken for a long time. He pressed into a corner, and took a deep breath. He drew on himself, on the inner him. On the twisted fire that roared in anger and hunger. The real him, the secret him, the soul behind all this meat. He reached inside, and found the bit of his soul he needed, and pulled it out.

If anyone were watching, they would see the huddled college student, thin with a dirty flannel shirt and hair that was now quite unruly, begin to grow and swell, his backpack seeming to pull inside his shirt as it went, the digital camera dropping into his hand, which grew gloves. His hair grew painfully short and even paler blond. His eyes went from, brown to grey. A tight goatee formed on his face.

Antonio stretched his arms a bit, glancing around. It was just the tiniest bit of essence to shift between vessels, from the one he wore for his Role to the one he wore for work. It felt more solid, more real to him. More of him was invested in this vessel, all the better to survive his trade. It was just over six feet in height, wearing a black silk shirt and pants. It had a flat back fanny pack as well, which he dropped his digital camera into. That was an artifact — it carried from vessel to vessel as he willed. And while his business wasn’t investigation tonight, you always had to be ready.

He saw no signs of angels. No angry Malakim sweeping from the stairs ready to tear him apart. As he climbed back up to the street and walked towards the taxi stand, he almost smiled. There was pleasure in flashing a secret so close to your enemies. A pleasure in being more clever than they were. It outweighed the fear of discovery, at least for now.

He took the third cab in, and gruffly gave the address. It was an address a few blocks away from his Charlestown target’s home. The cab pulled out, and Antonio watched the city streets pass. The cab driver took risks, but didn’t take the fastest route across the bridge. That was good. He wasn’t an angel, whirling through the streets in a burning trail of speed, the circuit complete and the world whipping by….

“Hey — this the place, man?”

Antonio looked around. A pretty normal Charlestown neighborhood. A pretty normal human street. People walking here and there.

“Yeah,” he said, and passed a twenty through the slot. He opened the door and slid out, not waiting for change. Money was nothing. He got it when he needed it. The ATM accounts never went dry. And he didn’t spend much. Nothing to really draw attention to himself.

The night air was cool as he walked. Cool enough that it seemed natural to button his shirt all the way up the collar. No one saw him slip the fold of cloth over the buttons. Nothing to reflect light. Nothing to appear. His black gloves were flat, not reflective.

He stepped onto the street, and looked each way for people. It was quiet, but humans crawled out when you least wanted them. But there was no one, and he was there. At the street. The address. The target. The next one to die.

The house was lit. The family was home. Danny Oliver, the owner of a promising software company, angling for an I.P.O. Graduated eighth in his class. Business degree. He drove the engine, his partners wrote the code. Pyre Software they were called. And Danny Oliver was the key. His wife was Ruth, who worked as a bank teller right now but wanted to be a housewife and take care of her children full time. His children were Ray and Kyle. Ray was in the second grade and played peewee soccer. Kyle was in Kindergarten and sang “You Are My Sunshine” at his Nursery School’s graduation, not forgetting any words.

A normal family, about to be plunged into chaos and horror. Into death. And part of Antonio wondered who they were. Why death had to come to this family. Why that pain had to drive the survivors. He wondered who made the plan. Who commissioned it. Was it the Revolution? Was it the Conspiracy itself? Was it Lord Alaemon? Was it someone else, hiring a death?

The crack in Antonio’s soul didn’t wonder. It didn’t wonder anything. It hungered. It knew why they were there. It wanted to tear through the iron fence around the property, sear through the walls. It wanted to rip the whole family apart into blood and into death. But Antonio didn’t do that. He was better than the crack in his soul. He was more than the crack in his soul. He had to be — quiet was needed.

He took one last look around, and carefully moved over the fence. These things were useless — an affectation humans put up, reminding the world that once they considered their homes precious, their secrets hidden. Humanity was slowly learning, again. Slowly.

The small lawn was well mown, but there was no proximity sensors. The lights didn’t come on as Antonio moved around the edge of the property, then darted to the house proper. Quite a bit of grass for Charlestown. The company must be doing pretty well. He reached the old brick of the building, pressing against it carefully, shielded from view from the street, next to a window.

He looked inside. The family was there. The children. The dog. The parents.

The target. The crack within his soul hungered. He could strike this moment and they would never know, but there were things to do first. Ways to protect himself. He had to do that first. The Angels of War could sweep in within moments of disturbance in the Symphony, and he wasn’t about the be captured or killed. Not for this assignment. Not when it wasn’t necessary.

He closed his eyes, and let the music of his Symphony sing within his soul, not moving. He made no audible noise, letting instead his inner self, his true self sing, pulling at strands of the Symphony around him — he couldn’t hear that Symphony, but he could affect it. Let the strains of his silent Song echo into it, weaving the darkness and even the fence around the property into a shield. A shield that blocked all Disturbance, for a while at least.

He felt the Song thrum, and he knew it was solid. He had five minutes where he could do what he wished. He turned to the window–

The target was gone. He felt a flush of anger, a desire to kill. How dare

No. Control. Always control. He couldn’t give in. Death would come soon enough, but he didn’t dare lash out. Not that he’d be heard. He wouldn’t. But the target and the target alone had to die. He had to get inside — four minutes, thirty seconds left.

There was no time to break in. He took a breath, and reached into himself, feeling the rush of his angry soul, the crack that defined him and the fire that burned within him. And with a shiver he lifted it up, letting his Vessel fall away into nothingness. His bat wings stretched out, unfurling into a wide canopy. His red skin glistened with sweat. His powerful arms stretched over his head, red muscles shifting. His face was twisted and crimson, huge golden horns burst out of his temples, hooking cruelly above. And, from his throat to the scrap of pants he wore around his waist, a long, jagged scar in the shape of a crack seemed to throb, with angry fire and golden light pulsing just inside it. The crack in his soul, with his soul exposed for the world to see.

But they wouldn’t see. You needed a powerful soul to recognize a demon uncloaked. And the world seemed almost distant with his true celestial eyes. Too distant to hold him back. He let his wings fill and drop, lifting him, and he coasted into the house. When the Shield around the property dropped, the echoes would be that much stronger for his taking his Celestial form, but he would be gone. If he could find the Target, that is. He swept through walls — darting around and avoiding pets and a child in the kitchen. They probably couldn’t see him, but if they happened to catch a glimpse out of the corner of their psyche — some little hint of the Infernal Wrong that was within the building, the scream would bring people running. He didn’t want that. This had to look natural.

He rose through the ceiling, onto the second floor. He saw a light in the bedroom. There. He’d seen everyone else downstairs, so the Target was there. Alone. He flew into the room.

And saw he was alone with the Target. Alone with Ruth Oliver, who had a hamper open. She was digging clothing out. Perhaps to do a laundry. How perfectly mundane. She was quite young, and pretty, though her second child had left some weight on her frame. But it wasn’t unattractive. A perfect Soccer Mom.

Perhaps she was meant to inspire her child to great heights. Perhaps she was her husband’s moral compass. Perhaps she had seen something she shouldn’t. Perhaps this family would be taken over by a new step-wife. A demon in Mortal flesh, sent to corrupt them all. Antonio didn’t know. He just knew she was about to die.

He fell back down into his flesh, silently appearing behind her. He watched her back move with human eyes. Watched the muscles of her back shifting as she pulled a bedsheet out of the hamper.

“Ruth,” he half-whispered.

She turned, startled. Probably expecting to find her husband. Her eyes grew wider as she saw the stranger in black, and he saw her breathe in to scream–

The crack in his soul screamed with pleasure, flooding out for her, for those eyes. It grabbed her soul with his, quieted only by his Lord’s Gift, forcing his angry fire and pain into her veins, into her heart… forcing the heart to shudder and stop, her terror-scream twisted into a silent croak of agony, her hands twisting in the fabric of the sheet, her legs shuddering under her.

And she felt forward, on her lifeless face, the grimace on her face slapping down onto the carpet, hard. Hard enough to make a thump.

Antonio was relaxed, the crack in his soul thrown into a moment’s relief, even as the Symphony clanged its horror around him. Horror that echoed his own pain. Echoed who he was. He lived for this. Lived for death.

“Honey?” Danny Oliver, calling up the stairs. Maybe he heard her fall to the ground. Maybe he just sensed something was wrong. The dead woman on the carpet didn’t answer his call. “Honey? You up there?” And Antonio knew he had to leave. He had perhaps two minutes left anyhow. Perhaps less. But first, he took out his camera and took a picture of the Target. Just one. A record. Proof that she died. Proof she didn’t die naturally. And then, summoning one of the last drops of his precious Essence, he rose out of his Vessel, letting his wings sweep him out of the roof and towards the ground, right next to the fence. There was no sign of people on the street, so he could let himself drop into his Vessel right next to the fence, then hop over it. He couldn’t fly through the shield itself, any more than the Disturbance could echo through it. Instead, it waited inside, rebounding off the shield walls.

He trotted now. He had to get some distance between himself and the house, before the shield failed and the Symphony screamed in anguish for its slain child. He had to be anonymously distant from the event by the time the Michaelites arrived to investigate. He had to have–

There. A convenience store. (It would be any second now. Any second at all.) He stepped inside, and nodded to the man behind the counter. The man nodded back, bored. It was almost nine — business would pick up, but it hadn’t yet. Antonio stopped in front of the cooler, and opened the door–

The sound of a human’s death is like listening to the sobs of the clouds themselves. The sound of murder is the sound of the substance of everything in the world crying in pain and horror. The Corporeal Realm is not meant for Celestials. Human beings are not meant to be killed by demons. The Symphony hates it, and screams its hatred into the night.

Antonio picked up a can of Seven-Up, and walked to the snack cakes. He considered his options. He wasn’t a huge Hostess fan, but it was the rare Store24 that had Tastykakes. He settled for a package of Funnybones, and walked over to the magazines. He picked up a copy of People, thumbing through it absently. He needed to spend a good amount of time in the Convenience Store. If an angry pack of Cherubim swept through the neighborhood, they needed to see an unconcerned man reading People, not a man nervously making his way to the North End, where Haagenti ruled the streets.

Not that there’d be many demons out on the streets tonight. They’d have heard the murder too. It was loud enough to maybe be heard all the way to Copley Place, really, unless the noise of Quincy Marketplace masked it.

A pack of teenagers pushed the door open, looking around. Antonio glanced up, then back down. He didn’t move. He didn’t react. The Cherubim. That was confirmed when they left so fast, not buying anything. They were looking. They didn’t take much time at this. Which was why Antonio switched Vessels back in Quincy Marketplace. This vessel was meant to be suspected. Tony was meant to be hidden.

He walked out, walking without much attitude, carrying his bag of purchases. $2.41 including tax. Expenses, if you will. A woman was dead, her family shattered and in mourning, and he was eating Funny Bones and drinking a can of Sprite. He slowly made his way to the Charlestown Bridge, and started across the narrow footpath, not breaking stride or meeting anyone’s eyes. The picture of a man out walking. With a couple others on the bridge, he didn’t look out of place.

He was ready to throw himself into the water. Once in the water he could blow the air out, sink and spend his last Essence going back into his Celestial form, and from there descend into Hell and Stygia, following the echoes of his Heart. The moment the attack came, he’d get the Hell out. But the attack didn’t come, and then he was in the North End, looking for a good Restaurant — preferably one that had part of the Haagentian Tether in it now.

It was after a small antipasto and a well portioned (but not overly generous) lasagna that Antonio knew there was nothing of the Prince of Gluttony in the restaurant he chose. Well, that was likely just as well. He walked to the bathroom to wash his hands.

His murderer’s face looked back at him from the mirror. Not the face he wore every day — the handsome, adult one. The one meant to attract a bit of attention, all as a dodge. After he got on the Tee and rode back towards Comm Ave, he’d change back. It was like he could hide himself from what he was that way too. He could dream of spinning wheels of fire in the night when he wore Tony’s face. He knew precisely what he was when he wore this face.

“You look content,” the face in the mirror said, a slight smirk on his face. “Are you?”

Antonio froze. He imagined for a precious second that he looked like the Target did before she died. The face was his vessel’s, but it was clearly moving and shifting, differently from his own. He saw the eyes of the reflection, ready to unleash his pain and death into it…

The fire of Hell burned in those cold eyes. The totality of the Labyrinth shifted and turned, the aura and awe of a Prince of Hell twisted into itself and onto itself infinitely, hiding in plain sight….

“Lord,” Antonio whispered. A curious whisper of fear and adoration. Did his Lord know of his dreams of Wheels? Did he know his thousand petty treasons? Could he? Or was Antonio still in his good graces?

“You’ve been busy, Antonio,” he said softly. “Very busy. What do you have for me?”

Antonio reached into his belt pouch, and took out the flash memory cards from his digital camera. The ones he’d transcribed and photographed lists of. Not his last two — he wasn’t done with them yet. They’d be the first two of his next delivery.

Memories and secrets passed through the surface of the mirror, which rippled slightly. His Lord took them. Took stolen diary pages and assignations where the wife and her lover didn’t know they could be seen. Took reports gathered by and passed along to members of the Revolution. Took the tiny little violations Antonio committed against who knows how many people.

His Lord accepted them. “I worry about you, Antonio. You know how much I love and trust you, don’t you?”

“I live for your trust,” Antonio answered. An evasion, which his Lord would expect.

“Did killing Robert Brenner’s Honda make you feel good?” his Lord asked mildly, a slight smile on his face.

Antonio blinked. “My Lord…” he whispered.

“Ah ah ah. You know better. It was too close to where you stay, little Antonio. Too close. And it wasn’t necessary. Unnecessary acts lead inexorably to revelation. Did you forget that?”

“I… try never to forget the lessons I have learned, Master. It was a mistake.”

“Mm? Perhaps. But you know how I love you, Antonio. Mm. Here. A gift.”

He passed an envelope back to Antonio. One in a cream colored envelope, with the address of Boston University’s Dean of Student Affairs on it. The envelope was sealed.

“Do not open this letter,” his Lord said. “If you find yourself enduring your friend’s noxious habits beyond your petty revenge, drop this letter in a mailbox. All will be taken care of from there.”

“Thank you, Lord,” Antonio whispered.

This is how we get our revenge, Antonio. The quiet, deniable act. Not automotive violence.”

“My Lord is wise.”

Remember that. When you must act, it should always be out of need, and must always be deniable. Do you understand me?”

“My Lord is merciful.”

“I love you, Antonio. And trust you. You do my work. Do not fail that trust. Never, ever fail that trust.”

“My Lord is fair.”

“Your tiramisu and coffee are on the table, Antonio. Best to enjoy them before the coffee gets cold.”

Antonio bowed, ever so slightly. His Lord wouldn’t want him to prostrate himself. It could attract attention. Antonio loved his Lord with all his heart. Loved him with the cold terror of knowing he had betrayed him, and that one day his own secrets would be laid bare.

That night, he laid on the steps of the College of Arts and Sciences, working on his sketch in the cool night air. It was close to midnight. The passion of the murder. The sight of his Lord. The careful maneuvering to the halfway point, where he switched back to his usual body. And then the T to Kenmore Square, and walking up Comm Ave for a while. He could have ridden the T the rest of the way, but he was restless. He often was restless now. The sketching helped. The figure of the boy, staring out into the sheer freedom of the skies he could never have.

“Hey.”

He looked up. Ellen was standing there, her hands in her pockets. “Is this the most comfortable place to work,” she asked with a grin. “Why not go to the library or something?”

“Don’t libraries close,” he answered, sitting up. She looked pretty in the streetlights. “Where did you come from?”

“Visiting a friend across the street, in Warren Towers. I looked out his window and there you were. So I thought I’d say hi before I hopped the T to go home.”

Tony smiled, and patted the step next to him. Ellen grinned and sat down, looking at him. “You look tired. Long day?”

“I’ve walked a thousand miles and then had to come back,” he answered. “You look fresh.”

“I got a nap early. I had to sleep off our bounteous feast.” She grinned again. “Lemme have a look at your sketch.”

Tony supressed the sudden urge to kick her away, to flee her. It was a reasonable request. He wouldn’t be revealing anything. This was just part of the Role. Just part of the camouflage. He told himself that again as he angled the bed to show her.

“Nice,” she said. “Really nice. I love the clouds….”

“Why?” Tony sat up a bit. He hadn’t really put much into the clouds…

“The way they turn. You can almost see them spinning. It’s like looking at… at wheels on a train, running through Heaven on tracks of the sky. It’s beautiful. You can feel the boy yearning to be on that train.” She looked at him. “The need he feels. It’s amazing, Tony.”

Tony felt the breath catch in his throat. Her smile was so beautiful. Her eyes so bright. And her voice… she understood.

She knew.

He looked. She was right. The clouds were meant to just swirl in the sketch, but there were clear wheels in them. Perfectly clear wheels. Spinning through Heaven. The boy was staring at them with his burning eyes….

“Haven’t you ever wanted to run,” he whispered to Ellen. “To throw yourself into pure speed, just letting everything bad in your out through your legs as you ran, or through your eyes as the scenery sped by, carried by a train?”

“Maybe,” she whispered back. “It’s a beautiful thought. You speak like a poet.”

“Poetry…” he whispered. He looked at the sheet. At his desperate, pathetic wish in the sky on the paper. “Motion…”

“Hey, I have to go,” she said. “But… look, you want to come with me? Crash on my couch tonight? We can talk about it. Just you and me.”

Tony slowly looked from the page to Ellen’s face. Her beautiful, precious face. Her bright eyes, looking into his. He wanted to clutch her, to cry on her shoulder, to beg for help. To tell her the things he kept hidden inside. To let the secrets out, tumbling like dominos into each other, until they all fell and the Dissonance tore him apart.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I have an eight am class tomorrow.” It was a lie. Lies were legal.

Ellen’s mouth pursed a bit. She looked a hair disappointed, but smiled. “Tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” There was no dissonance. Lies were legal.

Ellen smiled a bit, and rose, and so did he, closing his sketchbook. They walked to the sidewalk, and he watched her walk to the stand, waiting for the T. He watched her, then started walking. He could see the train coming. Watched it pass. Head for her.

He turned at the last second, watching her get on the T, selecting one of the seats. Even in the distance, she was beautiful. He wanted so much to cling to her.

The pain in his arms throbbed. The crack in his soul opened wide. And he reached out through the pain and the crack. Reached out with his Lord’s Gift dampening the effect. He touched her, and felt her twist and die, stiffening and slumping in her seat, even as the T pulled out and headed for the next step, Ellen looking asleep as she passed out of view.

The Symphony screamed its pain as he turned around. He honestly didn’t know if it would or not. She might have been an Angel of Flowers. She still might have been a Soldier. It didn’t matter. She knew too much. Knew things Tony couldn’t ever let anyone know. Not human, Angel or Demon.

He kept walking. This was bad. Two in one night was too easily noticeable. With luck, the Angels wouldn’t be able to figure out what happened here, though. Not with the train having pulled away. Even if they piece it together….

No, someone would have seen her talking to him, before she had the stroke that killed her. He might have to leave. Go somewhere else. And he needed to explain the murder up the line. Explain it. But he could do that. He had a picture of her sketch of the face in the flower. It would be a simple lie — clear Flower influence, and she was getting close, so she had to get out of the way. He was preserving Secrets. Yes. That would work. And if there was more to the story, the rest of his fellows would expect him to keep it hidden anyway. They’d never think he was covering anything up.

With just one problem.

He stopped, on the corner before his dorm, and took out his sketch book. He looked at the sketch, and set it down in a garbage can. Down the way, he could hear Rob arguing with a police officer, who was about to have someone tow his dead car. He ignored him.

The window seemed so far away. And the wheels in the sky were just pencil marks on paper.

As Tony watched, he let his pain out one last time. The paper browned, the pencil marks blurred, and soon there was just fine ash remaining. With his sketching pencil, he reached down and stirred, until the dust was random, sifted into the bag. And then he headed for his room. He needed to wait and pretend to sleep. He couldn’t report until after class tomorrow. Just a faceless student in the crowd, hidden away.

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  • http://moeticae.typepad.com/weblog_licentiae_moeticae/ Moe Lane

    :applause: Very good, Eric.

    And I hope he dies filthy.

  • MasonK

    Nice.

    One gets the impression that this guy is a Fallen Ofanite, yes?

  • http://websnark.com Eric A. Burns

    Probably. He certainly dreams Ofanite dreams. Only not really, because dreams are dangerous.

  • goblinpaladin

    This is stunning. Absolutely stunning.

    If I had money, I’d be putting some in the tip jar just for that.

  • http://www.starharbornights.com Alexandra Erin

    I would’ve read and commented earlier, but you did say this would be longish and I wanted to wait until I could read it unhurried in one go to give a fair appraisal.

    First, I never really got into In Nomine. Having been underwhelmed by the much-hyped World of Darkness, I had… let’s say commitment issues… when I heard about the premise behind In Nomine. Not because I didn’t like said premise, but rather because I did.

    So, you might be pleased to know that I followed it just fine even without knowing anything about the world’s metaphysics or the various factions mentioned. Somebody who’s not willing to keep going when they see a polysyllabic name they don’t recognize might not enjoy this story, but… what are you going to do about that?

    I have to say, I enjoyed the story. The length doesn’t hurt the story. It’s not exactly the most linear thing in the world, but it keeps moving, which is all you really need to do to stay float.

    Some people might look at it and go, “This isn’t a story. There’s no resolution.” and they’d be right… in fact, Ellen aside, there’s the very deliberately built up sense that nothing at all out of the ordinary happens for ol’ Tone on this day of days, and Ellen’s more an aversion of anything out of the ordinary happening than anything actually happening. Which, I’m feeling, is rather a good part of the point.

    I loved the “Want some popcorn?” “I like milk duds.” exchange. Perfect punctuation to the exposition on direct answers. I laughed out loud. It might not have been your intention, and I might be the only one, but I did. I found that hilarious, in a subtle way.

  • selphie_trabia

    I don’t know much about in Nomine or whatever it’s called. However…

    The inability of the “demon” character to save himself because he keeps being afraid of being saved by someone else, thus condemning himself to more damnation and continuing to be “caged” is something that I can see happening to a lot of people in the world. There’s a definite parallel between that and various passages in the Bible about the human condition of refusing to repent and believe.

    I find this fascinating and interesting… and a little sad.

    But all in all a good piece.

  • Michael Brewer

    It’s very sad.